Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Last Chance May

Tuesday May 29th
Knowing that our evening meal would be cooked by friends, it seemed like a good day to do our north coast birding run.
It was a very slow start on an overcast, 'dampness in the air' morning. I didn't feel like singing either....after a 5 a.m. wake-up. I had two target birds to-day and we saw neither of them. Our usually reliable Spotted Flycatcher site was a no show as was Turtle Dove all day.
Abbey Farm was worthwhile though. The recent rains started the springs flowing again and we saw a Kingfisher nest changeover. The departing bird - too distant to see mandible colour in order to ID male/female - bathed repeatedly, splashing into the water and then preening, from a low partially submerged branch. Lovely.
A Little Owl showed in the nesting tree and then appeared 20 metres away on a nearby fence post. Not for long, it was bombed by a pair of Mistle Thrushes.
A Buzzard cruised the  far meadow before landing, Grey Partridges, wandered through. We only saw three Red-legged partridges to-day and at least ten Grey. It's often the other way round.
Holme NOA was eventful...We discovered that we had a flat tyre. We can't complain about the AA service, it only delayed us an hour but meant that the rest of the day's activity was curtailed.
It did mean that we wandered over to the NWT centre for an ice-cream and were told of an adult male Red-backed Shrike present in the forest area. My lack of pager alerts (to be fixed to-morrow, Thursday) had kept me ignorant. On the way back, I spotted the bird from the car, perched on a bramble. We stopped (forbidden!) and I took a few distant pics. This is the best of them - the rest were even worse. My auto focusing system can't seem to cope with distant images with closer foliage in front. My own focusing is even worse!!

A long time since we saw an adult male in summer plumage in the UK, they're usually juveniles.
The verge-side Marsh Orchids along the track were coming into full bloom, this one taken from the car.

We decided a to walk as far as the freshwater pool at Titchwell. We were asked to identify a singing bird - Male Reed Bunting - by a keen woman birder from Jo'burg. Her accompanying relative was interested but not well informed. She was particularly keen to see waders in summer plumage and Bearded Reedlings. I was able to show her both plus at least ten Little Gulls, one of them an adult.  The Beardies were very obliging, a superb male posed at the top of a reed stem, she thought the black bellied Dunlin were great too.
Baby Robins are irresistible, this one was in the Fisherman's car park....

Good views of two Wood Sandpipers on a roadside pool west of Beach Road in Salthouse completed the day very satisfactorily. We were able to add a few Norfolk birds to our mainly Scottish month list.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Birds and Barbies

Friday May 25
Another hot and sunny day - Minsmere also had a sharp easterly wind to temper the heat. Despite my getting up at 5.00 a.m. (PC dilemma taxing my brain) - or maybe because - arrival at Minsmere was delayed until  8.45.
I'd read on Twitter that nesting Stone Curlews were visible from the North Wall, that was the first destination via the Sand Martin nest bank. The latter is well protected by an electric fence, too distant to use my 400 lens. I tried digiscoping instead, hand holding my 'point and shoot' Canon to the eyepiece of my Swarovski 82 scope.
With variable results. The birds were very actively building (digging out) their nestholes. Sandy soil flying everywhere, birds zooming in and out, in a cloud of activity.

Arriving at the start of the North Wall, we found half a dozen birders and a duty warden, ready to point out the Stone Curlew nest. They've long nested in this field but out of view until this year.  The nest is distant and fenced off but viewable through a scope. One bird was sitting, the other appearing from time to time. They both walked about in agitation when a splendid, dark red fox, ran along the fence-line, newly caught rabbit firmly clasped in its jaws.
North Hide gave views of hundreds of Black-headed Gulls and their accompanying cacophany. Ready to leave, the visit was made worthwhile by a Green Woodpecker flying in to a nearby island. Magnificent birds, so powerful and assertive looking. He hopped about like a small green wallaby, beak pointing skyward,  bouncing off both feet as many marsupials do.
The Woodland walk to Bittern Hide is one of my favourites. Not many birds to see to-day. Seeing a party of young schoolchildren approach brought an expletive to my lips. I know it's not PC to think like this. One has to educate the future generation, encourage an interest in wildlife etc etc , all very laudable. BUT, not when I'm there !!  (mingy old f***t)
To give the RSPB their due, they have now restricted school parties to the use of West Hide only and set up a terrific Learning Zone in the woods. To-day's group of kids was quiet too. Well done staff.
After a session of admiring Marsh Harriers, a shouting Cetti's and a Little Grebe, from Bittern Hide, we walked to Island Mere. We haven't walked to this hide for a very long time, 12 years +, we usually park on the entrance road and walk in through the rhododendron tunnel.
Another lovely woodland walk. Black-caps, Long tailed Tits feeding a family of fledged young, Cuckoo calling, Coal Tit hanging from a pine cone and our first actual sight of a Garden Warbler this year. We have one singing in our garden, I find them very difficult to see.
Island Mere hide is new this year, a vast improvement. The approach is along  an inclined wooden boardwalk, entering a light and airy hide on the first floor level. There isn't a ground floor......
When we entered everyone was crowded at the west end, viewing a Bittern. It instantly rose and flew to the reeds at the east end, where we were able to view it walking along, pointing at the sky and slinking off into the reed-bed. Always a delight to witness.
We sat for more than half an hour, seeing Bearded Tits skimming the reeds before crash landing, reeds waving madly, three Hobby above the poplar plantation, a Reed Bunting 'singing' - not the best - from his singing post on top of a bush and Cormorants perched on a wooden crossbar in the pool.

Bittern food, known as pilks to me in my welsh childhood.
On the walk back to the Centre , the reported Golden Oriole was singing from the area between Bittern Hide and Island Mere. As always, very difficult to see for such a spectacularly coloured bird. The yellow and black plumage blends very well with the sun-dappled leaf greens. A female has also been seen. Will they breed? It would be excellent if they did, the Lakenheath population is dwindling and precarious. The car park at last, for our first meal, thankful to be sitting on soft seats in the car

M and J were at the caravan for the weekend. We sat in their garden, sheltered from the now very strong and edgy wind. J cooked a barbecue which Pam ate and thoroughly enjoyed. We much appreciate such welcoming, affectionate and generous friends.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

CCC. Yes, yes, yes.

Tuesday May 22
Our first twitch this year and a very enjoyable one. We saw the bird and the weather was hot, cloudless with very little wind. Good job that the wind was missing. Kington Golf Course is the highest 18 hole course in England with spectacular views over the Brecon Beacons, Black Mountains and The Malvern Hills. It's in Shropshire, right on the welsh border.
I'd been sweating on this since the news came out late on Sunday night. It's only the 5th Cream Coloured Courser to appear in the UK and the first  Spring bird. I'd missed the 4th, in Scilly on St Mary's golf course, when my surgeon insisted that I went back in to hospital for a week (infected knees after replacement ops) and I had to cancel our annual trip.
We set off at 4.55 a.m. in thick mist which continued until almost the end of the hateful A14. Our SatNav then took us on a cross country route, with lovely rural scenery under cloudless skies. It was a surprise to find enormous fields of strung hops and three different groups of oast houses along the way. Delia was temporarily discombobulated by a closed road and a diversion but soon got us back on track.
The approach 'road' to the golf course was narrow. hedge-lined and very steep. It seemed endless as we were expecting a lot of birders traffic. One car only on the way up. We stopped at the Clubhouse car park, togged up and a kind woman golfer told us we could drive further up the mountain until we reached a ' cars no further' sign. Thank goodness she did. It was another mile and a half of precipitous lane.
Another lady golfer (it was ladies day) told us to cut across the course and make for a shed and a tree viewable in the far distance. It seemed a very long way, only a few cars in the parking area and not a birder in sight. Where was everyone? We eventually found a group of birders on the 8th fairway, standing in the rough, scoping the far side.  At the very top of the golf course !

A quick binoc view, scope up and views of a spectacularly beautiful bird in immaculate plumage. After looking our fill, I attempted some digiscoping despite the distance and the shimmering heat haze. 

If you can make out a black and white pole in the far distance left of the rape fields....that's where the bird was feeding. Not as far as it looks on the photo but far enough.
The bird took no notice at all of the golfers nearby and fed busily throughout our stay. Very Plover-like in its short dashing runs and food gathering.

This is the best I managed, greatly cropped. Lovely photos on Surfbirds, They must have been there early, before the golfers and stood much closer ! Sour grapes?
More birders were beginning to appear - from a different direction to our approach. And....a much shorter route, as we discovered on our return journey to the car. We did have to keep a watchful eye out for flying golf balls. 
After a very late breakfast, in common with other birders it was bird first, food after, we left about mid-day, meeting Justin L, Penny C and Andy toiling up the hill. We were able to show them the shorter route to the bird.
I took a few photos to show the steepness, the beauty and the incredible views.

What a lovely day. Everyone on the golf course was pleasant, helpful and interested in our antics. One woman reckoned she first saw the bird 'on the 7th tee  last Friday'. Entirely possible, will it stay for the weekend birders?
I wrote to the Club Secretary this morning (Weds) to express my thanks for their generous access and, received the following reply within the hour.

Thanks for that. You have all been so well behaved. I trust your trip was worth while and the weather is being so kind to us all so that we can enjoy our hobbies.

Nigel Venables

After several stops - and the return 'no access' road problem again solved - we were home at 6.00 p.m.

Saturday, 19 May 2012


Saturday May 19
Pam appeared at 6.15 this morning, saying 'Shall we go birding?' I replied mmmmmmmm, where? We left for Cley and were walking to Daukes by 7.45. - in thick and rather wet haar.
We met a woman near the hide who said that the Temminck's were on North Scrape.........
We stayed half an hour, watching not a lot. Four first summer Little Gulls and a Common Sandpiper. Views of Reed Warbler, Reed Bunting and Beardies along the path, both on the way there and, better views on the way back to the car park.
North Hide is a bit of a dreaded shingle trudge for us. It didn't seem too bad this morning but the visibility when we got there was appalling. Scoping was like looking through muslin. Birds can be very distant on this scrape, they were.
Eddy M was in the hide and yes, the Temminck's had flown - to Simmonds Scrape in front of Daukes, where we'd just been. Eddie tried his best to show us where the Temminck's were on Simmonds but no way could I claim a year tick on those views.
We stayed an hour and a half or so, the visibility gradually improving after a patchy start.  Three Spoonbills on Billy's Wash, 3 Curlew Sandpipers in summer plumage, a Little Stint, 2 Little Terns and a couple of Wood Sandpipers were of note. All had to be found amongst the restless flock of 150+ Dunlin present for the last couple of days. Very enjoyable and worthwhile.
A welcome hot chocolate at Salthouse car park, North Walsham for new fish at Angel Aquatics (the Heron had ours when we were in Aus) and seed peas at the garden centre. I discovered that I'd forgotten to order any. 
I read an article in Birdwatch to-day about the prolific rise in the number of Blogs by birders, most of which are rubbish and not worth reading.
Readers have a choice....!!  Mine replaces the annual diaries I have always kept and I only give the address out to friends who request it. It's totally for me.  If you come across it by accident, feel free to delete !

Friday, 18 May 2012

Not Another Dip......

Friday May 18
Our Norfolk list for may is not looking good, yesterday was our first day out and the habitat was restricted. We thought we'd give the Temminck's at Cley a go.
Starting out late, we nearly turned round due to heavy rain the other side of North Walsham. Ever the optimist, I kept thinking that the sky looked brighter. It was still raining when we got to Beach Road. I suggested that we sit in the Centre car park for a while, halleluia, the rain stopped and we walked to Pat's Pool Hide.
Another piece of luck, a horde of the coachful of visiting birders, left the hide as we arrived. What a day to choose. 
No sign of the Stints, we were pleased to see 2 Common Sandpipers, a pair of Little Ringed Plover, several Great Ringed Plover and a juvenile Little Gull which was hawking the back of the pool.
A Bee-eater had been reported from the Sluice area west of Cley Village this morning, we'd checked but all wires were bare. Someone in the hide mentioned that it was near the chip shop at Beach Road Salthouse. It wasn't when we got there, birders were streaming east along the main road. We tried to scope from Beach Road, seeing nothing. After several false starts and stops, we joined a few other birders in an off road field. One of them pointed out a distant blob on a wire halfway to Salthouse Heath. Very tickable views through my scope, colours, hunting sorties and good frame views at 50x !!
I put my camera least we saw it. Pam asked if it made up for dipping the Savi's (seen again at 5.00 a.m. this morning, I don't think that it's wort getting up at 3.30 for it). My answer. No not really, we don't often dip anything and I resent them all. Including the Temminck's.
BUT, a Bee-eater was a cracking addition, especially an unexpected one.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Where To Go?

Thursday May 17
Shall we do a long North Norfolk Day? Or, target specific birds locally? Absolutely low tide at Snettisham made the decision for us.
Buckenham Marshes first, to view the area at the far end of the Mill. Dot had told us approximately where to look, ' among the cabbage things'. Not cabbage, purplish dock-like leaves on the near side of the pool. What is it really called?
We must have scoped to and fro for nearly an hour before Pam first spotted the Pectoral Sandpiper which was in lovely plumage. A few minutes later, it had disappeared from view again, despite my never taking my eye off the scope. Elusive indeed.
There was also a splendid ginger Ruff, at least eight Redshank, a few Avocets, 60+ Mute Swans - and the RSPB Warden driving about on his quadbike and then walking the marsh, recorder in hand. Probably monitoring the breeding Lapwing as they did last year. We saw two delightful well fledged young near the pool. To be fair, the birds didn't appear to be spooked at all.
Strumpshaw next, for the walk to Tower Hide, which we last did in the early eighties ! A very pleasant walk, the last 800 metres along the riverbank. Many singing birds along the way, Willow Warblers, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Sedge Warbler and, at least seven Cetti's shouting.
Dot's instructions again. Look for the three bushes over the spit on the left. We did, until 2.30 when we gave up. No sound nor sight of the Savi's Warbler, noted on the wall as 'showing and reeling well at 5.30 a.m.'.
 I enjoyed sitting up there - two flights of stairs - surveying the scene. A Bittern boomed three times, two male and one female Marsh Harriers flew about as did a single Common Tern, the latter landing below us to eat a fish. Six male Tufted Ducks raced about in a testosterone fuelled frenzy after a single female who had obviously made her choice. She was also singling out one of the chasers for attack by her mate, she chased it and then stood 'pointing' until her mate arrived. The poor victim had a large de-feathered and red raw patch on his neck.
Because I was constantly looking at the three bushes we thought were the right ones, I saw a hovering bird, and called 'Kingfisher' as it dived and flew off across the reeds. before diving again. Pam saw it but the others didn't. Same goes for a Sparrowhawk which arrowed low across the pool.
It took us 35 minutes to walk back to the car, we didn't stop at all. We are not the world's fastest walkers.........
A most enjoyable day, nearly 70 birds on the list. Shame about the Savi's.
My mobile was sounding when I got back to the car. Yesterday's message from Steve re the Savi's and to-day's from Sue H about next week's day out which she can't make and wants to re-schedule. Probably another hospital app for her Dad.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Photo upload Finished

May 15
Rain has advantages. I finished illustrating my Scottish Blog this afternoon - after planting my enormous tomato plants in the greenhouse. Pam and Kevin emptied the lean-to of her wintering plants yesterday.
My cucumber plants died whilst I was away...........I've planted two more. The Runner Bean and Sweetcorn plants are in need of planting out too - in between heavy showers. How will everything cope with the yet another cold spell forecast?

Monday, 14 May 2012

Last Hurrah

May 12
At 05.52, as I finished dressing for a 6 a.m. breakfast, there was a knock on the door. Kathy to tell us that the dog Otter was in the tidal river. He wasn't viewable from our bedroom, we dashed round to the front of the kitchen area which overlooks the water.
Not easy to see at first as it was into the morning sun. He was having a lovely time, dashing about near a large rock. Silvery swirls of water gave his position away, first his tail and then his head, busy fishing. We had to leave him in order to eat and leave to catch the 8.30 ferry from Craignure. 
Otter sightings have been scarce this year, the tour leaders are having difficulty in finding any. On the ferry, we met one of the young men who'd been on the Lady Jane trip with us. He'd spent hours waiting and actively searching before he'd seen one. We were lucky, thank you Kathy.
He said he hadn't managed any decent photos of the Eagle, he was attempting to handhold a lens twice the size of mine.
Pam had decided to drive straight home to Norfolk, over 500 miles from Dervaig. We made sure that we stopped frequently, had no rain at all and were home before 8.30 p.m. I unpacked the car whilst Pam lit the fire, watched the last half of BGT, to-night's Casualty and retired to bed. 
Amazingly, Robbie, our ginger cat, did not join either of us but has made up for it since.
I am still working on my photographs, will be adding the first ones this afternoon but...... they may take days. Also hampered by being unable to access Google Blogspot via AOL, have had an error message for two days. I thought to try accessing via Chrome to-day. It worked !


May 11
After one of Kathy's excellent breakfasts - she keeps her own hens down on the shore so the scrambled eggs are delicious - Arthur picked us up at the bridge. Already full with the other six passengers, we sat in the front for the first session. He wanted to get to the Loch site for White-tailed Eagle early so took the Salen road first. 

Our first stop, roadside looking over the Sound of Mull, took our breath away, literally. It was extremely windy and rather cold, the sea jumping with white horses. We hastened to the northern shore of Loch na Keil, just as windy and cold but excellent views of a White-tailed Eagle flying out to the Lady Jane (Eagle feeding boat), viewable in the distance, warmed hearts. As did a Peregrine, coming at us like a fighter plane, zooming overhead.
Two Ravens, kronking furiously, flew out to intercept the eagle. Arthur says if Ravens call fast and furious, there's an eagle about.

Here comes the first of the furious pair........
Although Arthur doesn't approve of the eagle feeding, it's obviously very useful to know when the boat arrives !
The south shore of Loch na Keil was warm and almost windless. Arthur's forecast was that if we arrived by 12, the Golden Eagle nest change would take place between then and 1.00 and we'd get flight views. And so it happened..........Later, an immature White-tailed Eagle also appeared.
Ben More had a fresh overnight topping of gleaming snow. (Mull is the only island to have a Munro, A says Skye doesn't count as it has a bridge! What does the Channel Tunnel make the UK?). A camera stop for everyone.

Ben Mor 0n the right, across Loch na Keal. Snow top not visible in the photo.
Calgary Bay with its almost deserted white shell-sand beach and Caribbean blue water, as spectacular as ever. It's reached via a high road corner, the view below producing stunned gasps of surprise. The back of the bay is classic machair (pronounced macca I discovered), only found in a few of the Hebridean islands. Looks like short grazed grass to me. Spectacular views of Coll and Tiree to the west, great visibility to-day.
The high moor outside Dervaig is classic Hen Harrier territory. One duly - and confusingly - appeared. Confusing because it looked like a female ringtail but was displaying. Arthur said that it was an immature male, one of which has previously been known to breed successfully on the island. You live and learn......
The surprise was a Red Grouse flying across the road into the heather, as we turned round. A Mull tick for us. The area around has been fenced off - private grant, not Forestry - keeping sheep and deer out has enabled the heather to grow, a probable reason for the increase in grouse sightings.
I'd read in the Mull Bird Report that Caliach Point, on the north west coast,  is the best sea watching site on Mull. That's where we stopped after several miles of very pot-holed track. The sea was spectacular. We didn't walk to the Point itself, we viewed from the small parking area where Arthur was amazed to find two other vehicles. He is used to having it to himself. We saw Guillemots, Razorbills, Gannets, Shags, battalions of Kittiwakes and regular Manx Shearwaters, all hugging the waves as they battled the wind. Boy, was it cold!
Another go at the high moorland road, hoping for Short-eared Owl. No luck, the bright sunshine we'd enjoyed all day made the evening too light for them to be about early.
An excellent day. The other tour members were friendly, enthusiastic and perfect day companions. Arthur was as knowledgeable, humourous and pleasant a leader as one could wish for.
The food must be mentioned, everything home-made by wife Pam. Three choices of biscuit mid morning, delicious veg soup and four different sandwiches at lunch, three different cakes mid afternoon. Waw, she must spend a lot of her time cooking. All delicious too.
I highly recommend this tour.
We'd like to spend more than two nights in Dervaig, how can we fit it all in?

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Departure and Arrival

May 10
Last breakfast at Seaview was a very jolly occasion, table shared with a lovely couple from Manchester. He is a keen birder, wife isn't. Their daughter, her husband and their two young boys live on Erraid, a small island off Fidden, accessible by tractor and trailer across the sand at low tide and boat when its not. They're due to pick up grandson from school to-night and take him to where dad will be waiting with the boat. 
We said our fond and grateful farewells to John and Jane and drove off in the rain. It rained all day........

Abandoned fishing boat wrecks at Salen on the west coast on the Sound of Mull

Grasspoint yielded Wood Warbler and Tree Pipit. None of the other stops were productive until we got to Aros Park on the outskirts of Tobermory. Our first Mull Chiffchaff on the drive in and then, two Bullfinches feeding roadside. We walked into the wood from the overflow car park, big drops falling from the trees, hearing another Wood Warbler. Tobermory called... We sat for a while entertained by the comings and goings of the boats in the harbour. A cruise ship was moored offshore, several tenders taking the wet tourists back. A walk along the main street before a hot drink in the Chocolate Shop. We both had coffee.
We took the north coast route to Dervaig, past Loch Frisa which used to have the Sea Eagle hide made famous by Springwatch. We discover that 'our' eagle pair, now known as Iona and Fingal, is the RSPB's latest public watch pair. Hence the hide and ranger led tours.They moved operations to Glen Seilisdeir due to 'forestry operations' at the Frisa site. If they are still at the present site next year, we may go in order to get closer views of the nest - the Hide is still 300 metres away though.
After a quick look at Dervaig reedbed and river we arrived at Tighe na Mara, warmly greeted by Kathy. Same bedroom as last year too. After unpacking we repaired to the sitting room, logged on to the internet and farmed!
Out with Arthur and Discover Mull Tours to-morrow, a rest from driving for Pam before the long trip home on Saturday.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

What's better than 'Awesome' ?

May 9
At breakfast, John asked if we still wanted to go to Staffa as the Ulva Ferry boatman had rung to say that he was running a second Sea Eagle trip this afternoon. A no brainer for me...and Pam agreed ...the Ulva trip it was. It's a longish old drive but a lovely one, along the west coast, the sea in view most of the way. The road is challenging, single track of course but hugging the cliff in many areas, steep drop to the sea on one side. You just hope not too much traffic comes the other way, especially delivery vans, tractors and trailers and campavans. Mind you.. I was being driven by an awesome reverser !
With several birding stops, we reached Ulva Ferry at 12.30 - and found difficulty parking. An other boat runs trips from here and many families go across to the island of Ulva for the day. It's a pretty basic ferry......

The Lady Jane, skipper Martin and helper Richard discharged the previous trip's passengers, re-fuelled (petrol cans into a funnel), moved to let the ferry in and returned for we nine passengers. Not a big boat, the seating area was two garden seats and the top of the two foot high raised decking, behind the wheelhouse. The tide was dropping and I had difficulty getting on board, too steep a drop from the granite jetty onto the edge of the boat. My knees will not stand for that, especially the one left behind on top. Martin went off, returning with two stone blocks which he balanced on the boat to make the step down smaller. Great, he was very accommodating throughout.
The previous trip had seen an Otter about half an hour before we left. No sign for us despite careful searching. We motored south, seeing Guillemots, Razorbills, many Shags, the occasional Tystie and three Harbour Porpoises.
The coastal scenery was starkly stunning.

Martin began throwing bread to the gulls until we acquired a sizeable following. 

He then took a  fish of a fair size (John thinks that it was Horse Mackerel, looked nothing like a Mackerel though) from a covered bucket and lobbed it into the sea. Very quickly, a White-tailed Eagle left a distant cliff, made its way towards us, circled and dived for the fish. Absolutely stunning. One of my life's most memorable experiences. Seven of us had Canon cameras and the clicks were constant. Richard kept the boat positioned so that we were backing the sun. Ideal - nearly. The bird dived with its back to us and the vibration from the boat's engine was a hindrance. Brilliant though.

Not as sharp as I would have liked - at least I caught it.
Fish in talons almost discernible

Time for a welcome cuppa, produced by the 'boy' Richard (he was retirement age), both tea and coffee offered. Pam had my biscuit.
The bird returned three times in total over the next 30 minutes, taking  a total of two fish, its mate flying out to sea, before both returned to their nesting tree which was clinging to a cliffside gully. They fledged one eaglet successfully last year. 

Coming in overhead. What a bird.
Some people are objecting to the feeding, saying that it's unethical. Why? We are encouraged to feed the birds in our gardens to help them survive. The RSPB set up Kite feeding stations. Richard never feeds them enough to fill them, it must surely help the young to survive and grow. That's my opinion anyway.
A very entertaining time was had by all when Richard was attempting to retrieve the fish not taken. Especially the one half swallowed by a gull and then regurgitated a distance away. He stood like a pointer dog with his outstretched arm pointing in the general direction, swivelling as the boat changed direction. He then leapt into action, with the net outstretched at arms-length, whilst the whole boat took over the pointing and calling of directions.
A happy group made the journey back, which was enriched by four Ravens on the cliff top, more Harbour Porpoises, a handsome Great Northern Diver

Great Northern Diver - not yet in full summer plumage
 and 30 Common Seals lying out on the seaweed covered rocks.

I was carefully escorted off the boat, easy this time at a lower tide. The shallow stone steps up to the jetty were accessible.
A record time home despite an icecream stop - and another to eat it. Travelling the Phionnphort road behind a small Ford driven by a blonde was the  reason. She stopped for very few, oncoming traffic had no choice, she just drove straight ahead without any hesitation ! We ended up very amused by her successful  - almost aggressive - technique, we sailed through in her wake.
A last look at our much loved Fidden, numbers of Dunlin and Whimbrel increased to-night. Off to Dervaig in the morning.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Behind the Fire Station

May 8
The hotel workers, Pam and I, were on the 8.45 ferry to Iona, the first of the day. Straight to the area behind the Fire Station which overlooks a field with patches of already well-grown Iris. Perfect for Corncrakes. There was silence for 10 minutes, most unusual, the island is normally ringing with their call. At first, a very short, unenthusiastic call.....which gradually increased in both volume and frequency. Where was it? Pam walked off to one side, had a short view but it lowered its head before I could see it. They only raise their heads when they call - you have to be quick to glimpse it above the Iris stalks. They're good ventriloquists too.
The next call was ear-shatteringly loud, quite incredible. It must be close. I walked softly over to the corner of the next door garden and a Corncrake shot out of a bush , walked across the lawn, stopped and looked at me for about 5 seconds before running back into the field. Epic. My best views ever - and Pam had good views too. That image of it showing completely will be forever etched in my memory. Where was my camera? On the gritting container where I'd been sitting!
Elated, despite the light shower, we walked up the hill to the Abbey in order to view it without scaffolding for the first time since we've been coming to Mull. 

Another Corncrake called from the Hotel's organic garden, several American tourists from the cruise ship moored down the roads waiting hopefully for a view. They use rubber boats to ferry them ashore. Interesting to watch if the sea is choppy........
A look at our favourite shops, a drink at the waterfront cafe and the boat back to Phionnphort. We were back at the B and B by mid-day.
John and Jane had the 'Green Inspector' there to-day, to renew - or not - their green rating for the sign. It involves all sorts of categories including feeding birds and nestboxes. They have a cunning tent - like thing in the back garden under which they can dry the sheets all year round, that's part of it too. I think it went all right.......
Straight to the White-tailed Eagle nest where a lone bird was very fidgety, constantly looking around. It was an hour or more before the male returned, dropped the food and flew into the top of a nearby tree. We then watched him fly away again, gradually climbing until he was a dot in the sky. Quite an achievement, it's an enormous bird with straight, broad, plank-like wings, very little head projection showing despite the great yellow bill. It's tail looks very inconspicuous too, probably beacuse it's so white in an adult bird.
After putting up my scope to show the nest to two excited women who'd never seen an eagle before, we departed to look for somewhere private - no loos for miles.  Pam had to reverse a fair distance across a humpty bridge to allow a car and then a tractor through. The tractor stopped beside us, the 60+ year old driver opened the door, said thank you very much and.... 'that was an awesome bit of reversing' !!
We chose the secluded parking place for the ranger tours to the nest hide as a suitable comfort station.. As soon as we stopped, cars started coming out of the forest, shutting the gate....... then some more cars etc etc, The last straw was a car full parking next to us and producing a picnic.
Late afternoon at Fidden with the sun shining is magical. Silvern sea, rocks, tide rolling in and birds. 

We drove to the far side of the empty camping overflow area seeing Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Eider, Redshank and three ginger-brown Mountain Hares. Then, two summer plumaged Black-tailed Godwits flighted in nearby. Beautiful.


We left reluctantly to return  to our room for supper.
It was very cold most of the day until the sun came out mid afternoon. Still a chilly edge to the northerly wind though.

Monday, 7 May 2012


May 7
A domestic scene. I'm at my laptop, Pam's reading and Megan the labrador is stretched out asleep on the floor. She's not really allowed in but we let her ! After investigating the wastepaper basket for anything edible, having a cuddle and a fuss made, she settles.
We booked a late breakfast this morning due to a dire weather forecast. It ended as a dry with sun morning and a constant rain afternoon! We didn't travel much, Fidden, Uisken, Scoor Estate, Kintra and home by 4.00 p.m.
We added Little Grebe for Mull and a Snipe for the trip at Scour, which is usually a great raptor watching site for us. Everything hunkered down to-day. No sign of the Lesser Whitethroat at Uisken either.
I managed one photograph of a wet Buzzard in the rain at Bunessan and several of a female Wheatear on the Kintra Road.

Not having much success booking boat trips either. To-morrow pm is too rough for Staffa and the Sea Eagle boat trip from Ulva Ferry is full on both Wednesday and Thursday. We're booked to go out with Arthur on Friday, shame as I'd have preferred the boat trip. They have accustomed a pair of  White-tailed Eagles to come down for the fish they throw, which would have been an excellent photographic opportunity.
Time for supper and to usher Megan out.
Scottish Greylag Geese look different. Slimmer and less bold looking, altogether a less coarse looking bird. I quite like them !
And they're found on the beach too......

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Eagle Day

May 6
Our first full day on Mull did not disappoint. Breakfast at 7.30 , joined by a woman from N.E. USA on a sabbatical, visiting Iona then on to Lindisfarne, and a couple from Canada with some Scottish ancestry. Interesting.....they had a stereotype American breakfast too. Pancakes, fruit, bacon and maple syrup. John said that they were at the end of their trip and probably fed up with the full Scottish.
As I walked out to the car, not until 10.00 after a leisurely start, our first Cuckoo called from across the stream. First stop Fidden (pronounced Fidgen), a couple of miles along a road two houses up from the B and B. A dead end - at Knockvelogen farm yard , it's twtty.
The road follows the sea most of the way with some beautiful sandy coves, lichen clad rocks and sheepfields dotted with gambolling or sleeping lambs. Still quite small here. Stonechats and Wheatears are frequent as are the ubiquitous Meadow Pipits and Willow Warblers. On the return journey, a Peregrine arrowed across the road causing consternation and panic to the small birds. They fled in scattered clouds. A single Buzzard loafed about as we struggled to ID anything on the shore, the tide was so low and the heat haze shimmering.
We did have good views of two Golden Eagles through the  sun roof, soaring higher and higher above us, a few miles along the 'main' road.

The turning for Uisken (Ooshkin) is immediately before the small hamlet of Bunessan, a single track very bumpy road down to a lovely bay. Bank holiday Sunday was not a good day to choose. The tiny car parking space at the end was full, containing about 8 cars, people and dogs and kids all over the bay. Another day... We did hear, and briefly see, a Lesser Whitethroat in a stunted willow patch but, there wasn't a pull off so we couldn't linger.
The crag and forest we were aiming for can be seen across Loch Scridain - but it's miles around, past Penn y Ghael Post office. Three Great Northern Divers on the Loch, no waders again apart from Common Sandpipers and Oystercatchers. The Oyks are everywhere with so many Grey Herons, we must have seen 20+ to-day.
A quick chat with Brian Raines out with his birding group of the day and off to the rough, rocky, corner pull-off from which a White-tailed Eagle nest can be distantly viewed. Once located, in the middle of the conifer forest, we could see two adults, one standing in the nest, the other on the edge with its back to us, showing the big white tail. After a few minutes, the latter flew off through the woods, emerging to flap its giant plank-like wings to gain height and find a thermal. Hassled by a corvid of course.
We went on to have a look at the new hide set up for ranger led tours to guide booked public to view the nest. Not in view though, only the clearing from which the walks start.. We spent the rest of the afternoon slowly making our way back, parking for an hour or two to have a late lunch (cooked breakfast this morning). We saw a total of three White-tailed and three Golden Eagles, 6 Buzzards and a lovely Short-eared Owl. We turned round to re-locate the latter and I found it perched on a high grassy mound, My photos need a telescope to view the bird !

Fidden again to see what the high tide had brought. Parked on the 'camping ground' - not a flat area in sight, a rough bit of hillocky pasture overlooking the sea - our first different Scottish waders at last. Seven Dunlin and a Ringed Plover, feeding on manky looking drifts of seaweed beside a small rivulet, the tide rising ever higher.

Everywhere looked lovely in the evening, sun-dropping, golden light.  The sand is white, the sea a tropical blue, if it wasn't for the cold wind it could be the Caribbean ! This lone Shelduck looked good.

We decided not to eat there to-night, returning to our room to do so. John and Jane had left us a bottle of wine last night with some lovely crystal glasses. Only one glass to-night, John broke one. We are sworn to silence as he hasn't confessed to Jane yet.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

WiFi at Last - Mull

May 5
We woke early to find frost rimed grass, a snow encrusted windscreen and snow fringed windows. Opening the curtains I was greeted by the sight of a female Mallard leading her 5 newly hatched ducklings out of the lochan and up the grass towards us. We'd only seen male ducks, where was she nesting? I hope the visiting Heron doesn't find them.
The last of the car packing, where did it all come from? Stop for papers and off, south down the A9. A very surprising right turn - Delia said - took us some miles down a single track road with rare passing places through lovely scenery. Luckily we only met one other traveller, a cyclist. We eventually joined an A road having bypassed Kingussie and Newtonmore. Delia said 2hours 49 minutes to Oban ....and it was , almost to the minute. It was an excellent short cut, we were in Oban at 10.15.
Pam breakfasted overlooking a lovely bay north of Oban, reached via the seafront. It used to be a car park with a small cafe. Now it has a couple of dozen designer houses around one side of the bay - and a parking meter. The cafe has gone.
Tesco for the essentials shop. Mull has a few far spread shops but the prices are steep and the stock limited. Filling up with petrol is obligatory, the cost is astronomical on the island of Mull. We drove to the ferry car park to find out when we could book in for the 2.00 ferry to Craignure and we were waved straight in, seventh in the queue. Booking online means a confirmation with booking number invoice and therefore, a visit to the booking office to exchange it for tickets. We then found a cafe, had a hot drink, explored the 'everything must go' factory shop - outdoor clothing and still not a bargain - before returning to the car. Pam found two Black Guillemots in the harbour so we walked to the end to try and photograph them. A bit distant but I took a few. 

As we walked back, we spotted another, single, bird. One of the pair, about 30 yards away, dived, disappearing .........until the single bird took off vertically and violently and the diving one appeared from under him. 

Devious little b. Funny though. It scurried off, and the attacker returned to its partner, showing its strutting pleasure at the success.
A very smooth crossing, we had a cold drink and Pam asked the cafe man for ONE chip, which she was allowed. Honestly....... I had half of it !
We were at the very front of the ferry but they allowed another row off first.
First stop, Grasspoint, ticking off Wheatear, Stonechat, three Tree Pipits and Twite. Scoping from the small parking area, Pam found a Great Northern Diver. No White-tailed Eagles though and the Mull Eagle Watch notices have been removed. They were the oldest pair so maybe one or both of them has died. (Added later. Failed breeding due to old age Arthur  thinks).
Driving Glen More, I thought I saw a perched bird high on the hillside. Pam stopped, it was a rock...!  But, In binning the rock, I saw a Golden Eagle being mobbed by a much smaller raptor. Unfortunately Pam missed them both, a combination of her position in the car, the briefness of the appearance and, my lack of accurate instructions due to not taking my eyes off the birds.
Penn-y-Ghael stores to buy last year's Mull Bird Report and an ice-cream, warmly greeted by Brian's wife who recognised us immediately. Brian was out birding with a group. They're both friends of John and Jane's  (our B and B owners).
Loch Pottie, a few miles from Phionnphort (pronounced Finfert, don't ask), had more birds than usual. Sand Martins, a single Whooper Swan, Tufted Ducks and roosting Greater Black-backed Gulls. 
John didn't hear the door bell, appearing from the back garden, we were greeted by Megan and her daughter Lainie, brown Retrievers. He helped us unpack the car but we did most of it as more guests arrived.
That was it for the day, we logged on to the internet for the footie, especially the FA Cup score and watched TV for the evening.
I still have to-day's photos to upload ready for sorting when I get home. Could take a long time.......

Scotland April 26 - May 4

 April 26
Away by 4.30 a.m., I wasn’t feeling my best after a mere 3 hours sleep, I finished packing the car like an automaton.
It was raining as we left and continued to do so – in variable intensity – for most of the day. We had particularly torrential stuff in northern Yorkshire through into Northumberland. Apart from a petrol and much needed loo, we didn’t stop until Scotch Corner, where we breakfasted at the far end of the car park near the wood, as always.
We dropped in to Cove so that Pam could see the lovely little monument to the wives and children devastated by the loss of a fishing boat and their menfolk.
Skatteraw is a must, our favourite stopping place. The tide was well out, making its way back in, floating the eiders off their rocky resting places. Passing Gannets luminous against the navy sky. Two Whimbrel fed on the grassy bank in front of us, joined by a Curlew. They were very flighty, often flying away behind us for no apparent reason, before returning to repeat the action.

The usual call at North Berwick to view Bass Rock, white with thousands of Gannets and their guano. Visibility not good to-day, the auks were flying too distantly to identify.

Bass Rock - very poor visibility (did I need to say that !)
Edinburgh. Well, the interminable ring road which takes one part of the way to Glasgow before crossing the Forth Bridge. A notice tells us that a new bridge is being built but I saw no evidence of a start.
Tired by now, we signed in to Glenrothes Travelodge, paid for internet access which kept crashing out, after 20+attempts to log in….never had trouble before. Waste of time and money. In bed by 10.

April 27
Such a delight to wake to a sunny morning. A 7.10 a.m. start saw us arrive in Newburgh at a pretty low tide. Not much hope of finding the King Eider….and we didn’t. No terns yet and the only waders Curlew.

Cransdale Lookout near Collieston is another favourite – and it didn’t disappoint. Hundreds of dove-grey backed Kittiwakes wheeled past, auks flew distantly, two Red-throated Divers in fine summer livery, Fulmar and, the cream to-day, an Arctic Skua. Our first Rock Pipits this year and, genuine Rock Doves, all showed whilst Pam ate her muesli breakfast.
A quick stop at Cruden Bay and its quaint shed café amongst the lobster and crab pots where Pam could get an ice-cream – none suitable for me unfortunately.
What is it with us and Starnafin Farm RSPB reserve? Last year Big Sit listers in the centre hide so we couldn’t say what we were seeing, nor find much space, and a noisy group in the parking area. This year, a class of upper juniors on their lunch break in the area below the viewing platform. Very excited and noisy until the ‘lesson’ re-commenced – an RSPB rep extolling the virtues of the RSPB young explorers group. It was raining too, after a lovely morning.

Very few birds to see, most unusual, we love this place. A few Curlew, Wigeon, Teal, one distant Whooper Swan and many Gulls. The school party bus driver had started his engine in the car park, flooding the air with noxious diesel fumes, probably near asphyxiating the Tree Sparrows feeding nearby.
Undeterred, we togged up and trudged to Tower Hide which is about a mile’s walk (probably less but didn’t seem like it in a cold wind with occasional rain spatters). The hide is a puzzlement, it’s single storey overlooking acres of –to-day – very wet marsh with large pools dotted around. Viewing what looked like a ruined windmill base encouraged the reading of the info at the back of the hide. It’s known as The Tower (hence the hide’s name?) and is the ruin of a water drainage mill dating back to 1790, it’s a listed building. 

Fore-shortened view from the Tower Hide, zoom used.
We were on our own so we stayed for an hour seeing only Sand Martins over a big pool to the west. The rain stopped….the sun appeared and so did the birds. A Short-eared Owl quartered the grassy area in front of the hide, giving us our closest and lengthiest views ever. Lovely. 

Pam's photo of the Short-eared Owl, she's much more skilful than I with her Powershot.
Our first Sedge Warbler tuned up from the reedbed and about 20 Curlew appeared from nowhere amongst the sedges in a wet meadow. They must have been hiding from the rain. So must the Greater Yellowlegs which I found near the Tower, distant but good through the scope. The digiscoped photo isn't ! It's laughable, but, you can see the leg colour.....

We haven’t seen one for some time. A Redshank strolled into view too. All in a magical final 30 minutes.
Happy, we drove to St Coombs, a 17C fishing village, where we ate a very late lunch overlooking a lovely, deserted sandy bay with creaming waves rolling in. Bliss. The stream of seabirds flying through enhanced our enjoyment of the view.

We found Carnbulg Harbour last year, where one can imagine that no-one else exists. The wrecked ship still remains, caught fast in the rocks, seemingly impervious to the relentless attack of the sea. 

Huge rollers here and many thousands of birds in the hour we stayed. A constant heavy stream of Gannets, and all the gull species, mostly the latter, even more Kittiwakes again. Two Whimbrel flew restlessly around, a dozen or so Shags and Cormorants perching on the bow of the wreck.
Time to find our B and B for the night, Rose Lodge near New Leeds. Only a 20 minute drive, guided by the SatNav across country.

April 28
The B and B was very comfortable, the people most welcoming and the breakfast at 7.00 well cooked and free from fat. Mrs had said we could have breakfast as early as we liked. This morning we realised why… was cooked by Mr !! We shall use it again.
Our first stop was MacDuff at 8.30, where we drove straight to the harbour. The town is multi level housing set into the hillside, a row of very well kept cottages on the seashore itself, both the dwellings and the harbour dating back to the 17C. 

Pam's photo
The shore was fringed by incredibly jagged rocks, like craggy molars. The tide was coming in too, throwing spray high into the air and, unpleasant looking spume pooling onto the sand between.

Through Banff, a grey granite Scottish town, to Whitehills and then Portsoy, another 17C harbour.
Spey Bay is not one of our usual calls, we usually visit the north shore of the river to  look for the many Goosanders which congregate here.  The south shore is much more pleasant and is a nature reserve. We parked looking over the river mouth and immediately spotted Goosanders on the far side. They very quickly – at the approach of a man and his dog  - took off. There were 28 in total, why here? The main river channel is narrow, very fast flowing indeed, with pools and creeks beyond which is where the birds prefer to loiter on the islands.
No sign of the Yellow-billed Diver at Burghead, not good on a fast falling tide. A good variety of bird though. Razorbills, Guillemots, Red-throated Divers, a Red-necked Grebe, Long-tailed Ducks and Common Scoter. Always worth a look here.
Findhorn Bay was empty sea to-day but….we did see an Osprey flying up river as we meandered through the gorse.
Nothing at Alturlie either save plenty of Saturday visitors, x country motor bikes and a vast area of mud with a few Hooded Crows and a pair of Mergansers beyond.
Tesco shopping for the week before a return to Forres and an abortive hunt for a reported Snow Goose amongst Pinkfeet. I saw four of the latter fly away. We ended up in the lanes but our SatNav guided us safely onto the Lochindorb road. I’ve never seen the loch as full, it had flooded the road in several places. No edge at all for the usual Sandpipers.

Scottish Black-faced Sheep. The lambs are so attractive, black face markings and black 'knees'.
Alison and Lyndsey met us outside Fairwinds Hotel, they tell us that the flooding is the result of the previous 2 days very heavy rain.
Silver Birch chalet is in the hotel grounds overlooking a small lochan and surrounded by immensely tall conifers and lichen enshrouded birch. It’s been our home here for more than 20 years. Car emptied and shopping stashed, the first job is to hang up the bird feeders on nearby Birch. Very tired to-night after three days travelling, we were early to bed.

April 29
A really leisurely start to the day, we didn’t leave the chalet until 10 a.m. A further delay, I cleared the rubbish into the giant bin near the church and Pam chatted with the girls and petted Lucy, their delightful Maltese Terrier. She’s tiny and looks almost legless.
After very very heavy overnight frost – the lochan was covered in cracked, mosaic shards of sparkling ice – a perfect spring day. Blue sky, an increasingly warm sun and the merest hint of wind. The Red Squirrel has already found our sunflower heart feeder, he enjoyed them last year. 

The new glaucous growth on the conifers glistened in the sunshine. A  joyous, good to be alive, morning.
Wanting an easy day, we drove to our beloved Findhorn Valley, the drive is so lovely that any birds are a bonus. Knowing we’ll see the major raptors on Mull takes the heat off. First stop, Glen Mazeran Bridge where enormous tree trunks have been placed so that we can no longer drive off the road onto a flat area before the bridge. Why? Maybe people have camped there or something. I scanned from the bridge whilst Pam explored the river bank to locate the calling Common Sandpipers. Under the trees overhanging the near bank, I saw what looked like a large water boatman skittering across the water and then disappearing under. Dipper. Only two stones in view, showing above the water, it must have been using submerged ones. One of the stones then sprouted 3 birds, two adults and a young.
Findhorn car park already had 8 cars parked, we pulled in behind one which soon departed. We stayed over an hour seeing no raptors at all, on what seemed to be a perfect morning. We’d seen one Buzzard on the way up and the usual Oystercatchers, Curlew and gulls. A single Swallow flew around hawking insects, they’re scarce this year, held up in an unseasonably cold Spain. Some dying from lack of food we’re told.
The Farr road…..we never see much in this eight miles of very narrow track, loved by motorcyclists and cyclists. To-day, we started with two Tree Pipits on the first low section before the climb up to the wonderfully bleak moorland. Not flat terrain, many deep valleys and stream gullies to the layered mountains beyond, the highest, snow topped. Heather covered, some of it bearing large patches of bleached, skeletal stems, a result of controlled burning. We lunched in a large layby with a view, seeing a Red Grouse fly across the heather below. Our first wheatear, a male, flashed off the road onto a distant perch as we dropped down into Farr.

Loch Ruthven RSPB. A small car park with room for us. The walk to the hide was a penance. The first section very wet, thick boggy mud with pools through which to splash. The path climbing up through the woods is narrow with many stand up tree roots to negotiate and, large boulders to climb/teeter around. I heard the first snatch of a Wood Warbler song amongst the Chaffinches and Willow Warblers.
We had the hide to ourselves. Great. Not even an assistant. We made the most of it staying an hour or so, me attempting photos of 5 Slavonian Grebes through dirty windows which couldn’t be opened. Probably futile as they were so distant, even the nearest pair in the only partly showing reedbed to the left. The male dived, coming up with weed to build the flooded nest a few times, before giving up. 

Two adult Red-throated Divers patrolled the far side and, Little Grebe occasionally appeared in front of us. A male Reed Bunting flew in to a small waterside bush and then departed. So did we – for a very late lunch in the car park after the muddy trek back.

Loch Ruthven from the bank before the climb to the Hide. The Grebes nest in the pale green growth showing above the water on the left of the picture.
Station Road had no birds at all apart from the ubiquitous gulls and Oystercatchers. Home early to catch up with three days Blog writing, I shall have to wait before I can post it. No photograph additions until I get home, my editing programme has disappeared from my laptop. Weird. I used it throughout Australia and I haven’t removed it from the machine. Mysterious technology.
The Hotel is empty until Wednesday but two other chalets are occupied, one of the big ones near the house and Pinewood next door to us. These two are the originals.

April 30
Holiday? No, a birding trip. We left the chalet at 5.35 a.m. in light rain, we nearly went back to bed. Rain and birding, they don’t like it either.
At 6.00 we were alone in watching two Black Grouse, not displaying, sitting around their lekking ground. On to Loch Garten for the early Capercaillie watch. As soon as we walked into the centre, it was obvious that one was being watched. How jammy was that…A female sitting on a horizontal branch, feeding, her lovely, scallop edged shades of brown and grey plumage showing well in the scope. Five minutes later, I saw the male, walking slowly along the ground, again feeding.  Awesome bird. Years since we had such good views and, even longer since we saw a female.
Back to the chalet for breakfast and pack ready for the day. Where should we go in the rain? Inverness area might be drier. Slochd Summit had horizontal sleet…….
Alturlie was a mud bank again but we saw 6 Scaup this time, two of them males, half a dozen Curlew and a single Whimbrel.
On to Inverness Information Centre the other side of the Kessock Bridge. Mainly to pick up a tide timetable – it turned out to be a printed sheet for to-day only. Useful info for Tollie Red Kite Centre though, on the Ullapool road. We called in to suss it out, as we entered their approach road, a Red Kite flew directly overhead. The feeding takes place at 2.30, we decided to come back for it.

Still pouring down……
Marybank is the entry to Strathconon, a lovely glen along the river Conon. Nearly fifteen miles along it is the pull off where we used to see a Golden Eagle nest. The pull off contained two badly parked cars, we parked nearby on a verge. After half an hour or so they left and we moved in. Maybe the nest has moved again, it’s three or more years since we came up here. We’d decided to move on at 1.00, we both got out of the car to get comfortable. I looked up and saw a Golden Eagle fly across the narrow valley, mobbed by crows. It flew along the ridge and landed in a tree on the hillside opposite. A splendid adult bird, its golden mantle shining brightly even in overcast conditions. I tried some digiscoping of a wet bird in dim light. (excuse for photo).

Golden Eagle

The rain was starting to ease and had stopped completely by the time we left for Tollie. The latter is a converted barn, the RSPB own it in a joint venture with the local landowner who approached them with the idea. The RSPB rep. gave us an interesting and factual talk about Red Kites and their habits and told us not to expect many birds. He was right. After he’d laid out a kilo of venison pieces – they’re only allowed to use game – the circling local male swooped down and took off with a piece of meat. They never stay to eat. 

Red Kite male showing his blue wing-tag - introduced bird. The other tag shows the year of birth.
He did so several times before being joined by a Raven and a couple of Carrion Crows. This population of Kites is not flourishing, so many are shot and poisoned. Local schools used to sponsor a bird but were so upset when one was killed that it’s now a business sponsorship scheme.
We left and shopped in Tesco on the way home. The Hotel was locked once more, we only have a key to the front porch door, no internet again. What a bore.
Another early start to-morrow, we shall retire early.(9.00p.m ! When did I last do that?).

May 1
What a lovely day. Sunshine, temperature rising to 13C, little wind, beautiful scenery and ……..colours.  Mediterranean blue sea to set off the mile after mile of deserted sandy beaches and  rocky coastline. The greens of softly unfurling leaves on spring trees, lush greens of winter wheat and the faded greens of seaside pasture. The yellow patchwork of rape crops, startling against the hillsides, rich butter yellow gorse, roadside verge dandelions and clumps of marsh marigolds.
It didn’t start like that. We set off at 5.50 in fog which lasted all the way to Inverness in varying density. 0C at Slochd, 1C in Inverness. The fog dissipated and the sun shone all day. The birds were good too.
Embo was the first port of call, the place where one drives through the caravan park onto a small concrete jetty – full of sand to-day. Long-tailed Ducks, Eider, Cormorant and Common Scoter, no waders at all, an indication of the day to come if we’d known.
Pam breakfasted at The Mound the other side of Dornoch Firth. Still no waders apart from two Common Sandpipers, there are often 6 or more. Two Red breasted Mergansers, one Teal and a dozen Black-headed Gulls. As we were packing to leave, a small skein of 16 Pink-footed Geese flew through.
At Helmsdale, a left turn onto the Melvich Road through the Flow Country. It starts off very gently along a river through gorse clad hillsides and, gnarled lichen-clad oak.
About 5 miles after Helmsdale, whilst passing through one of the oak copses, I heard a Redstart song. We parked and Pam located a beautiful male serenading the morning from the top of an oak.
The road gradually climbs to moorland with sheep and lambs a real traffic hazard. Now, the cars all carry fishing rods strapped to bonnet and roof. The first Wheatears and a myriad Meadow Pipits. A functional railway line snakes its way up too, often used by aficionados just to say they’ve been. The summit is at Forsinard station where the RSPB have a small office and video room. We use the loo there and to-day, a hot drink from the machine. We arrived at 9.45 staying about half an hour chatting to the Warden and his very helpful assistant. She leads walks at Dunnet Head on a Wednesday. There were twelve pairs of Hen Harriers on the reserve last year, a tribute to their work here.
On the descent to the coast, just the one Golden Plover on a riverside field and a male Stonechat atop a heather clump.
Dunnet Bay and a stop at the Castletown end. So calm to-day. We are accustomed to seeing many divers, terns, Ringed Plover and Dunlin here. We worked hard for one Great Northern, one Red-throated, a Guillemot and six Arctic Terns perched on a fishing rig. Just as well we saw the latter, St John’s Pool on the way to Dunnet Head is normally teeming with them. None. 220 pairs of nesting Black-headed Gulls, 5 pairs of Lapwing, one Redshank, 1 Teal, 3 Wigeon and a few Coot and Moorhens were found eventually. Splendid new hide though, the RSPB should take a look at it.

St John's Loch - Black-headed Gull heaven
We’re too early this year and birds are late returning due to the recent bad weather on the continent, especially Spain. The calm weather doesn’t bring the seabirds in for shelter either.

The assistant warden at Forsinard had told us that no Puffins had returned to the auk colony at Dunnet Head. We walked down to the lookout point and saw three. There were thousands of Kittiwakes in large rafts, feeding all around. The Razorbills and Guillemots were lost amongst them. One Gannet cruised by as did a plethora of Fulmar.

 ‘Proper’ Rock Doves shot through, I still haven’t managed a photo. We also walked down to the lighthouse to try for a better view of the auk cliffs. There wasn’t.
Onto the cliffs for a late lunch, one Raven wheeled through, hassled by Carrion Crows, it must be very tedious to be constantly hassled, same goes for all raptors.

We left at 2.10. driving down the road, I saw two raptors appear above the ridge. A female Hen Harrier and  a Buzzard were having an altercation. The Hen returned and I was able to snatch two shots from the car before she departed over the moor.

A very expensive car re-fuelling and the long journey home – rather longer than necessary as we took one of Pam’s  diversions. Long way to go to add a Blue Tit to the day/month list ! Over 70 birds for the month list, will be more accurate after to-night’s bird account. 71.

May 2
Another beautiful day. The temperature was 15C on top of Cairgorm, on the viewing platform outside the café, 18C at Forest Lodge.
A very new experience, travelling up in the funicular whilst sharing the disabled section with two skiers and four snowboarders. Tourists were heavily out numbered, the car park and slopes were heaving with winter sports enthusiasts. They were so excited too. Alison had told us that the winter had been rubbish but snow conditions were very good at the moment. The train announcement was conditions on various pistes too – not the Cairngorm history we’re used to. The funicular whizzed up in half the usual time and ran every 15 minutes.
Getting out onto the viewing platform was hazardous, a couple of feet of hard-packed, ice-covered snow over most of it, the right hand side cordoned off. We slithered our way to the edge, met a Norfolk birder and immediately saw a pair of Ptarmigan feeding 50 yards in front of us. Another pair was in view off to the side near the skiiers. Jammy. The pair below got to within 30 feet of us before sauntering off. Delightful.

Ptarmigan viewable near right.
 I was able to show several very grateful trippers the view of them through my scope and tried some digiscoping. As one of them said ‘I could get to like snow if it was like this with hot sun on your back’.

Male Ptarmigan in nearly full summer plumage, walking uphill, I love his furry wellies.
My best digiscoping yet.
Successfully negotiating our way back, we had a hot chocolate before returning on the 12.00 train.
After a hopeful 10 minutes at Coire na Ciste, no Ring Ousel this year, we drove to Abernethy Forest Lodge RSPB. WE started the walk down the hill past the dog kennels before I changed my mind and thought one of the other walking trails would be better. We walked half a mile or more seeing nothing before a Crested Tit appeared in response to my call. We had views of the whole bird feeding upside down on cones. Great.
Whilst having lunch sitting in the car, I heard a Redstart – Pam thought she’d heard one earlier. I saw a flash of red fly by, located the landing place, Pam got out and we saw a male Scottish Parrot Crossbill drinking from a puddle. It didn’t stay long, must have known I had my camera ready.
Grantown for petrol and then Dulnain Bridge. We sat on the roadside metal safety barrier watching a pair of Common Sandpipers flying in chasing circles over and over again. Silly birds, it went on for ages. Eventually they landed on the other side and I saw their nest site in a hole under the bank, behind a large boulder. Pam walked off to have a look upstream…….and a Grey Wagtail flew past me , disappearing down river.
Lochindorb beckoned. On the approach road, Pam saw a bird on top of a roadside stone. A superb female Merlin, closest views ever. I was about to photograph it when Pam drove off, seeing a car coming in her rear mirror  - single track road. No other birds of note, apart from a Red Grouse calling so closely that I was able to photograph him from my window.

Another heart warming and very successful day.

May 3
Normally, we go the north coast when it’s not good weather in the Highlands. To-day, we left Carrbridge in sunshine again, found heavy mist rising from Lochindorb and a haar over the coast !
Burghead Maltings. After over an hour’s scanning of the sea we saw….Long-tailed Ducks, Guillemots. Razorbills, Eider, Cormorant, Shag, 2 Sandwich Terns and 2 Red-throated Divers. A Rock Pipit kept up his parachuting song throughout. We left the two other watchers to look for a loo and to explore further along the coast. We ended up in Hopeman Harbour, standing on the seawall with our scopes. Almost immediately, Pam was the first to see the adult White-billed Diver. The other birders from Burghead hurried up and a debate ensued. In the poor visibility, I was reluctant at first to rule out Great Northern – although the bill looked big and pale enough. The light improved and I was prepared to accept the collective decision.
Later, two were reported in the area.  By then we had moved on to Kingston on Spey where we lunched watching 34 Goosanders on a near pool. I shouldn’t have waited to take a photo – too hungry. On an ebbing tide, they all floated away downstream into another channel – and out of sight.
Culbin Forest now charges for parking which Pam was not prepared for me to pay, we rarely see much there anyway, it’s all conifer plantations and we don’t need to work for Crested Tit and Crossbill. Although one can never see too many of them.
Cloddymoss is a little further west, the approach along a gorse-lined track.. By now the sun was shining, no sign of haar nor any clouds. Our first Chiffchaff as we arrived, Blackcaps singing away, Orange-tip and Peacock Butterflies flitting from dandelion to dandelion. Around the small heavily overgrown with sedge and fringed with carrside trees lochan, we found groups of Cowslips in flower.

Low tide and no birds of note at Alturlie. A call at the Poundworld shop near Tesco for Klipits – didn’t bring any and cereals need packing on Saturday – before a short Tesco shop and home.
Got internet access to-night, interrupted by the delightful Lucy in need of cuddles, still can’t post this though. Don’t like to stay too long when the guests appear for their evening meal.
Lyndsey had locked the inner door earlier in the week, forgetting our arrangement for access !!

May 4
To-day…….it snowed. Well, wintry showers. Not all day, just fairly frequently and in short spurts. Some were more rain, others small hailstones, some small snowflakes. None of it settled and it was very cold all day, the highest reading was 7C in the sun, out of it it was 4C. What we’d expected really.
Having missed Black-throated Diver, Lochindorb has never let us down before, we consulted Gordon Hamlett’s excellent Highland Birding book and drove to Glen Affric. It’s a beautiful glen but rather short of birds, as we were reminded. We saw two Divers fly off as we arrived at the end of the loch but couldn’t ID them. Ah well, cut our losses and drive back to Glen Feshie, our normal last day birding place. We set Delia (SatNav) to get us back via Lochindorb for one last look.

Much higher wind to-day, the Loch was gunmetal grey and angry, choppy waves being driven into the shore. The Black-throats usually hang about south of the castle, not to-day, it was empty again, couldn’t see the nest either. Parking at the other end, the first to show was a pair of Red-throated Divers, the water was much calmer here. Maybe that was why we saw one and then another of our only Black-throated Divers this trip. Great, full house of Highland specialities. I scoped them for about 20 minutes. A pair of Common Sandpipers flew onto a nearby rock, making a right commotion, several Red Grouse showed above the heather too, this must be the easiest place in Scotland to view them.

A pair of Common Sandpipers
At the northern end of the Loch, Pam swung sharply into a layby. An Osprey was hovering high above the water. We watched for about 15 minutes, waiting in vain for it to dive on a fish. It flew away and landed on a heather clump on the opposite side, we startled it off when we drove by. Only the third we’ve seen this trip.

The usual stop at Inshriach Nursery where I walked determinedly past all the lovely Alpines , not going to clutter the car up this year ! First time ever. Their café is called the Potting Shed, has delicious home-made cakes and a long balcony area overlooking a huge bird feeding station. Goodness knows how they fill the feeders as they are hung over a steep drop to the valley below. I managed to find two high stools (perches) at the counter and we sat enjoying the common garden birds in their dozens. Mostly Chaffinches, some Greenfinches, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Siskin, Coal Tit and a Great Spotted Woodpecker.  And the cake…….

The Woody caused great excitement amongst the ladies Rambling Group from Nairn who walk the north coast somewhere once a month. They were all older and fun.

Glen Feshie at 4.30, adding a Teal and Goldeneye on the over full Uath Lochan to the day list, too cold to walk. Home to pack, clean the chalet and start packing the car. Delia says that it will take us 2 hours and 40 minutes to drive to Oban. Birding not taken into account !!